The fragile economic and political situation in Venezuela has been a recurring topic of conversation throughout this leg of my journey in the Americas. Mostly because I’ve met dozens of Venezuelans who’ve left home as a means to provide for their families, or to seek out a future that is brighter than the one Venezuela can provide at this point in time. One Venezuelan girl named Judy, a bubbly bartender at one of my hostels in Peru, recounted to me all the days she spent inside her house playing Solitaire to kill time because it was too dangerous to go outside. Another Venezuelan named Carmello whom I met in Panama City was showing me videos of the violence, and described the country as a jungle because of the lengths people were willing to go to in order to survive. That even having your phone ring in public could put your life in danger.
Towards the end of my time in Panama, I met a lovely woman named Reina from Isla de Margarita. (I mean, who doesn’t love a queen?). I was instantly drawn towards her warmth and charm; typical traits of Venezuelans. For the most part, we communicated with smiles but when we did speak, the topic of conversation was nothing to smile about. I couldn’t help but ask for her take on the economic crisis, especially from the perspective of an islander. We spoke about pressing issues such as the shortage of medical supplies and of the CLAP program– a program which provides government-subsidized boxes of basic goods (i.e. milk and rice) only to those who support the regime. Our chat wasn’t very long, but I was happy to listen intently to what she had to say on the sensitive matter:
The crisis is becoming worse with each day that goes by. For the people living there, it’s difficult to find food. Supermarkets are almost empty and people have become thin. It’s difficult to find medicine and people are dying because of this. It doesn’t even matter if you have money to afford these resources because there are none available. The youth are partaking in protests and are dying at the hands of the police. The internet is the only reliable place to find information because the government has taken control over the television and radio. They’re telling the people that everything is fine. It’s sad.
Venezuela once had everything. People were happy and people travelled because they wanted to have fun, not because they had to flee the country. They’re leaving because they have to. Because there are no opportunities. Young, educated people who once had careers cannot do anything anymore because they don’t have enough money to leave. If they are lucky enough to manage leaving, they take up jobs like cleaning and washing dishes. Whatever they have to do for their future. But I love my country, I have faith that one day it will flourish again, and that it will be more beautiful than ever before. That those who left will come back with experience and help rebuild our nation.”
“Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”– Henry Kissinger